Predicting Roy Hodgson's England Starting XI vs. Italy in World Cup 2014 Opener

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Predicting Roy Hodgson's England Starting XI vs. Italy in World Cup 2014 Opener
Victor R. Caivano/Associated Press

There are two England lineups to ponder right now—the team we want to see against Italy, and the one Roy Hodgson will pick. 

Don't be fooled by Hodgson's bold selections in his 23. As my TalkSport colleague Danny Kelly put it this week, Hodgson may have a progressive squad, but a conservative team will come out of it at the World Cup.

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For Hodgson. the bold move has already been made by including Adam Lallana, Ross Barkley, Raheem Sterling and Luke Shaw in his traveling party to Brazil. Don't expect any of those to start against Italy, because Roy is ultimately a pragmatist by default.

Much as I'd love England to go for a youthful lineup against the Italians, it simply won't happen. Hodgson will go for players with plenty of caps and the experience he wants on such a big stage.

To back up his argument I remember Stuart Pearce—a Nottingham Forest team-mate of mine and one of the toughest players you could ever come up against—telling me how ravaged by nerves he was at the 1990 World Cup with England. It took him quite a while to settle down in the first game.

That's why Roy went with proven players at Euro 2012. His XI to face France in the opening match was as follows:

Kirsty Wigglesworth/Associated Press

Hart, Johnson, Cole, Gerrard, Terry, Young, Lescott, Milner, Parker, Oxlade-Chamberlain, Welbeck

It's a team of grafters. A team of solid, dependable players. Oxlade-Chamberlain and Welbeck are both young, but Hodgson knew they would put the yards in and do the work. He'd rather have a player at that level he can rely on, than risk a talent who might let him down.

Scott Parker was perhaps the quintessential Hodgson grafter in that mould.

To start thinking Hodgson will approach the World Cup with the mindset of Brendan Rodgers, or Manuel Pellegrini, is to misunderstand the manager. That's not what Hodgson is about, and it never will be.

He could have picked John Stones of Everton in his 23, for example, but there's risk there with a ball-playing defender at such a young age. Hodgson would much rather have two steady-eddies in the form of Phil Jones and Chris Smalling as back-up for the right-back and central defensive positions.

The likes of Lallana, Sterling, Barkley and Shaw will be reduced to cameos from the bench. They will be used as impact substitutes, but they won't be thrust from strong Premier League seasons into the glare of a World Cup starting spot. That's a big leap, and Roy knows it.

With all that being said, here's the team I think Roy will send out against Italy.

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My team would be a little different, and you can watch me pick it in this week's Google+ hangout right here.

To be fair to Roy, he's damned if he does, damned if he doesn't. You really can't win as an England manager, because if you lose you got it wrong. If Hodgson goes for a young side and England get hammered by Italy, people will be calling for Frank Lampard. If he goes for experience and they lose, people will want the young guns in. 

By naming the up-and-comers in his squad, Hodgson is sending the message that there's an England future to believe in. It might seem like a gamble, but his gamble will stop at the 23.

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